Santorum Very Nearly Wins; Did Being Antigay Help?

BY Lucas Grindley

January 04 2012 4:09 PM ET

Mitt Romney was declared winner of the Iowa caucuses in a photo finish. But the LGBT community may not have escaped the Rick Santorum juggernaut, as Iowans delivered a come-from-way-behind surge Tuesday and perhaps propelled his antigay agenda onto the national stage.

Networks had dubbed the race "too close to call," but late in the night Romney was announced by the Iowa GOP as the winner of a three-way race to the finish that ended with him beating Santorum by a mere eight votes, both with 25% of the vote. Ron Paul finished third with 21%.

Santorum rode a wave of enthusiasm in recent polls that followed his sudden rise from single digits to a reported 15% in the most recent Des Moines Register poll, which is well regarded for its accuracy in predicting how Republican caucuses will unfold. The poll was taken over four days from December 27 to 30, and Santorum averaged 10% during the first two days but doubled that number in the last two.

The Register poll found that more than 40% were still open to changing their minds, then NBC reported Tuesday that its entrance polling found 31% of people who made their decision on the day of the caucuses went for Santorum.

While none of the candidates is a darling of the LGBT community, the possibility of Santorum emerging as the Republican nominee has the potential to rile LGBT voters like no other. Santorum has eagerly courted the socially conservative wing of his party, and he's left a long antigay record on the campaign trail and before that as s U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

It was while senator that Santorum was “Google bombed” by activists in 2003, led by Dan Savage, in response to his comparison of gay sex to bestiality and pedophilia. Santorum had publicly worried that legalization of gay sex could lead to recognition of “man on child” and “man on dog” relationships.

Political pundits might consider the eight-vote margin in Iowa a virtual tie, which gives Santorum a greater platform for his antigay views and perhaps leaves some question about whether being antigay is once again a winning argument with the Republican base.

The blowback felt by Rick Perry — who aired a commercial in Iowa claiming it’s unfair that gays can come out in the military while Christians supposedly must hide their beliefs during Christmas — had some declaring it was evidence that demagoguery against gay people is no longer politically acceptable.

Outside the Republican primary, the message does appear to have less appeal. Perry's ad, called “Strong,” has more than 700,000 dislikes on YouTube compared to just 25,000 likes. And it was the subject of mocking by late-night comics and in imitations of the video that spread across the Internet.

But none of that stopped Santorum. Just the opposite — he often brags about being mocked by gay rights activists and describes himself as the “courageous conservative.”

When Perry had his turn surging in polls, it was Santorum who pounced on the Texas governor's credibility on same-sex marriage issues. “When we have people who say states have the right to pass gay marriage, I say, ‘No, they do not,’” Santorum told a crowd in Waterloo, Iowa, in a veiled attack on Perry, who had stumbled early with some conflicting statements on the issue and finished in fifth place in Iowa. Perry said he is returning to Texas to reassess.

Santorum used his election night speech to first thank his wife, God, and Iowa — in that order — and then delivered an economic message that alluded to the social issues he campaigned on.

“When the family breaks down, the economy struggles,” Santorum said, echoing a theme he's struck while on the trail that also ties back to his stance on marriage being only for heterosexuals.

Santorum was among the first to sign antigay pledges from the Iowa Family Leader and the National Organization for Marriage promising to seek a federal ban on same-sex marriage via an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In Santorum's most recent pronouncement, he said that if elected president, he would seek to invalidate the marriages of thousands of same-sex couples who have already wed.

“I think if the Constitution says, ‘Marriage is this,’ then people whose marriage is not consistent with the Constitution” should not be married, Santorum told NBC's Chuck Todd. “I’d love to think there’s another way of doing it.”

By contrast, Romney also supports the constitutional amendment but has said he'd leave existing marriages in place. Romney also refused to sign the pledge from the Iowa Family Leader. Paul eschewed both pledges.

Santorum’s photo finish, a highly improbable scenario just weeks ago, might be cause for concern in the Romney camp if the surging candidate uses the momentum to suddenly find the campaign muscle and coffers needed to compete in New Hampshire and other upcoming primaries.

And Santorum, who has complained repeatedly about being ignored by debate moderators, can be expected to get a lot more attention in a pair of debates this weekend before New Hampshire votes on Tuesday.

Santorum has come a long way from his fourth-place finish in the Iowa straw poll in August, when he finished behind Tim Pawlenty who then dropped out citing lack of support. The straw poll was won by Michele Bachmann who finished the election on Tuesday night in single digits, essentially in last place among contenders there.

Newt Gingrich finished in fourth place and unabashedly praised Santorum on Tuesday night, especially for waging what he described as a “positive campaign.”

“I wish I could say that for all the candidates,” Gingrich jabbed, alluding to his dissatisfaction with a barrage of attacks he faced from Romney. Then Gingrich had some thoughts on what's ahead.

“One of the things which became obvious in the last few weeks in Iowa,” Gingrich said, “is that there will be a great debate in the Republican Party before we are prepared to have a great debate with Barack Obama.”









































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